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UN rights chief calls for investigation into 'landscape of horror' in DR Congo's Kasai provinces

Detailing “harrowing reports” of killings, mutilation and entire villages destroyed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's restive Kasai provinces, the top United Nations human rights official today called on the UN Human Rights Council to establish an independent international investigation into the widespread rights violations and abuses there.

“The humanitarian and human rights situation has deteriorated dramatically [over the last three months] and various actors are fuelling ethnic hatred, resulting in extremely grave, widespread and apparently planned attacks against the civilian population in the Kasais,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein told the Council – the highest UN intergovernmental forum on human rights issues.

Most concerning, the High Commissioner said, was the arming of a militia – the Bana Mura – allegedly to support authorities in fighting the Kamuina Nsapu, and which has carried out horrific attacks against civilians from the Luba and Lulua ethnic groups.

“Refugees from multiple villages […] indicated that the Bana Mura have in the past two months shot dead, hacked or burned to death, and mutilated, hundreds of villagers, as well as destroying entire villages,” said Mr. Zeid.

He added that teams deployed by his Office (OHCHR) witnessed children as young as two, whose limbs had been chopped off, and babies with machete wounds and severe wounds.

“One two-month-old baby seen by my team had been hit by two bullets four hours after birth; the mother was also wounded. At least two pregnant women were sliced open and their foetuses mutilated.”

Allegations of widespread human rights violations and abuses

Mr. Zeid also spoke of allegations of rights violations by members of the security forces, including summary executions and rape during operations against villages allegedly controlled by the Kamuina Nsapu militia. He also recounted reports of human rights abuses by the militia, including targeted killings of the armed forces, police, public officials and civilians perceived to cooperate with them, as well as individuals whom they accused of practicing “sorcery.”

Violence flared up in the DRC's Kasai regions in August 2016, when a customary chief was killed by Forces armées de la République démocratique du Congo (FARDC), as DRC's armed forces are known. The Kamuina Nsapu militia (named after the chief) then set about avenging the killing, committing widespread atrocities as well as recruiting children into its ranks.

The gravity of the situation was further underscored by the discovery (in April, this year) of forty-two mass graves by OHCHR and the UN mission in the country (known by its French acronym, MONUSCO).

More than 1.3 million people have since been displaced within the country as well as thousands forced to flee across its borders.

In his remarks, Mr. Zeid recalled the killing of two UN experts who were found dead after being abducted while investigating the situation in the country. “Their killings must also be fully investigated, and I remain in close touch with their families,” he stressed.

'By bringing justice to the Kasais, we may be able to prevent further crimes elsewhere in the DRC'

Also in his remarks, Mr. Zeid noted that while there has been some progress in ensuring accountability in other parts of the DRC, the severity of the allegations in the Kasais and lack of action on part of the Government to investigate and bring perpetrators to justice has necessitated the need to establish an independent investigation mechanism that can establish the facts and determine individual responsibilities.

“This will also send a strong signal about the need to uphold human rights in the rest of the country, where lack of progress in implementing the 31 December Agreement, and continued restrictions on political rights and freedoms, are generating frustration and deepening grievances,” said the High Commissioner, noting that he would also remain in touch with the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“By bringing justice to the Kasais we may be able to prevent further crimes elsewhere in the DRC,” he added.